Sheffield’s leading musical theatre youth group is celebrating thirty years at the heart of the city’s amateur dramatic scene.
Known for its mantra “by young people for young people”, the group has spotted, coached and developed young talent, both on and off stage, for three decades and is where some of Sheffield’s most seasoned performers cut their theatrical teeth.
Formed in 1989, the society began life as a branch (or ‘splinter’) of an adult group, Woodseats MTC, and was formed to give the young members more opportunities.
Pete Miles is Splinters’ Stage Manager to this day, and was one of those who helped set up the society. He remembers how the idea came about:
“Woodseats had a few younger members who had expressed a desire to do shows aimed at their age group and where they were more likely to get principle roles. A few of the committee thought this would be a good idea and may also act as a way of getting more younger people into the main society.”
Since then, Splinters has become a society in its own right, putting on at least one big-scale production every year.
“Splinters can proudly say that a number of now established professional performers and technical staff have passed though its ranks,” says Pete.
“Whilst technical aspects of Splinters shows have developed with technology , giving a more professional feel to the shows, this has always been secondary to the main objective of giving young people the chance to either perform or learn/experience the backstage aspects of theatre.”
Now earning part of his living working backstage in theatre, Pete learned his craft with Splinters. And it’s the challenging productions which stick out in his memory:
“For our second show Grease we used an old Citroen 2CV with its engine removed. It was quite light and easy to push around but it had no brakes!
“To stop it rolling off the rostra the back of the car was secured to the back wall of the stage area by a rope, which was also used to pull the car back upstage for storage when not in use.
“The car couldn’t be collected until the morning after the last show. However, the theatre insisted it be taken out of the building on the Saturday night, so the rope had to be used again to tie it to a lamppost to stop it rolling away down the street!”
Current Splinters chairman Mark Holmes joined the society in 1995 at 15 years old and has performed onstage dozens of times.
He has since gone on to play leading roles for other societies in Sheffield, including at the Lyceum.
“My years with Splinters have been some of the most important of my life. I’d even go so far as to say it’s been life-changing,” he explains.
“I’ve made lifelong friends and will be forever grateful to my predecessors for all the help and encouragement along the way. Knowing how the society has progressed over the years, it makes me immensely proud to now be leading the group into its 30th year”
With members from ages 14 to 30, Splinters has stayed true to its roots as a youth group, with many members moving on to other societies when they reach the maximum age or helping out backstage.
But for the group’s 25th anniversary in 2015, a new project was launched called Splinters 25 which brought members from years gone by back to share the stage with younger performers.
The first Splinters 25 production, Rent, was performed in the Crucible Studio and two years later the group put on Rock of Ages at the University of Sheffield’s Octagon Centre.
Now, to mark the 30th anniversary, Splinters 25 will bring the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar to the same venue next month.
Featuring such famous songs as Gethsemane, I Don’t Know How To Love Him, and Superstar, this gritty retelling of the last seven days of Jesus’s life will be reimagined in the present day.
“We wanted to choose a show that would really highlight the strength of our entire company and showcase the talent we’ve had through the doors at Splinters in our relatively short history,” says Mark.
“This production lends itself perfectly to the magnificent venue. With a 40-strong cast filling the purpose-made stage being complimented by a face-melting 6-piece rock band and additional choir, we can’t wait to bring this production to life”, he says.
Jesus Christ Superstar runs at The Octagon from 3rd – 6th April. Tickets can be bought online at www.gigantic.com/jesus-christ-superstar-tickets or by calling 01142658688.